One artist at the National Portrait Gallery protest painted a mural of the Mexican environmental activist Samir Flores Soberanes, who was murdered in February this year. Image: Mark Kerrison

Poll: Is it time for museums and galleries to drop fossil fuel sponsorship?

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 14.06.2019
Guests climb wall to bypass protestors at BP Portrait Award ceremony
In the latest of a series of protests at museums and galleries, guests attending BP Portrait Award ceremony at London’s National Portrait Gallery earlier this week were forced to climb over a wall after anti-oil activists blocked the main entrance to the institution.

Members of the campaign group BP or not BP? were able to obstruct the venue’s entrance for around 30 minutes by chaining themselves to railings. They handed out fake programmes to the waiting guests urging the institution to end its 30-year relationship with BP.

A number of artists and cartoonists also created live portraits of activists from countries affected by oil pollution, as well as some of the BP executives attending the ceremony.

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Guests had to climb over a wall to enter the ceremony. Image: Mark Kerrison

A judge for this year’s award, the artist Gary Hume, supported the protests, writing a foreword for the fake programme that read: “As the impacts of climate change become increasingly apparent, the gallery will look more and more out of step by hosting an oil-branded art prize.

“Continuing to promote BP as the climate crisis intensifies will do unacceptable damage to the NPG’s reputation, relationships and public trust. I urge you to commit now to finding an alternative.”

Eight portrait artists who have exhibited at the awards – including Henry Christian-Slane, the winner of the BP Young Artist award 2017 – also called on the gallery to drop BP as a sponsor.

A spokesman for BP or not BP? said: “We didn’t want to stop the event going ahead, we just wanted to delay it and cause some disruption.” He said lots of guests at the event had accepted the fake programmes and the response to the protest had been “extraordinary”.

The ceremony went ahead as planned after the demonstration. The first prize of £35,000 and a commission went to the Brighton-based artist Charlie Schaffer for his portrait, Imara in her Winter Coat.

The protest comes months after the National Portrait Gallery turned down a £1m grant from the Sackler Foundation in response to a threatened boycott over the Sackler family's alleged role in the US opioid crisis.

A spokeswoman for the gallery said: "The National Portrait Gallery respects other people’s rights to express their views and we are grateful to all the artists and judges who have contributed to our annual Portrait Award, which represents the very best of contemporary portrait painting by artists from all over the world
 
"While partly supported by grant-in-aid from government, which accounts for 33% of total income, the National Portrait Gallery works with a wide range of companies in support of its exhibitions and displays. The sponsorship of the Portrait Award by BP is now in its 30th year. This support directly encourages the work of talented artists and helps gain wider recognition for them, and enables free admission for the public, over 275,000 visitors in London last year.

"Since 2010, BP has also given special support to the BP Portrait Award: Next Generation programme which encourages 14 to 21 year olds to become involved in painted portraiture."

Is it time for museums and galleries to drop fossil fuel sponsorship? Vote in our poll


These issues will be discussed at this year's MA Conference (Brighton 3-5 October), which takes Sustainable and Ethical Museums in a Globalised World as its theme

Update
18.06.2019

Edited to include a statement from the National Portrait Gallery.

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